About the food of Latvia

Beehive transport in Latvia. Photo by Tiago Fioreze.

Maybe it’s this time of year – when the days are wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations and living so far away from my Bostonian roots feels so excruciatingly wrong – but five minutes into cracking the book on Latvia and I felt like I was in New England.

Wishful thinking?

Perhaps.

Seascape by Liepāja town, Latvia. Photo by Chmee2.

But, with Latvian’s weighing in with favorite foods like apples, cranberries, meat, potatoes, and gingerbread – it’s hard not to draw the comparison. Apples make their way into sauces, pancakes [Recipe], ciders, breads, pastries and more. Cranberries are whipped up into layered bread puddings, traditional cranberry sauces [Recipe], and jellies. Meats are stewed and potatoes are served alongside, often boiled. And gingerbread? It makes its way into cookies [recipe], houses [epic], and more.

The deeper I dug however, the more I realized the resemblance to my hometown ended there. Latvia is loaded up with other dishes I haven’t seen anywhere near Boston. Just for starters, there’s aspic (gelatinous savory jellies filled with chunks of meat and vegetables), sauerkraut, fishy potatoes (tossed with herring and smoked salmon, for example), and all manner of rye bread.

Riga at night. Photo by Pudelek (Marcin Szala).

Also, they typically celebrate name days instead of birthdays. And they do it with a bread. A sweet bread, but bread all the same  [Recipe].  With candles in it. Fabulously different from my childhood, although my mom did once make my brother Damien a birthday pie upon his request. It was apple.

Anyway, all this food – familiar and unfamiliar – has me excited to be visiting the Latvian Global Table, all the way up in northern Europe, along the ambling Baltic sea.

What are your favorite foods from the region?

Turaida Castle in Sigulda, Latvia Photo by Maurice. Maps and flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

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Comments

  1. While you are cooking, I suggest enjoying some of the traditional song festivals such as these from YouTube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjkQjKdKKMo&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8CRWAh8AxU&feature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvZ5mCpOaus

    Group singing actually has a remarkable history as a mechanism for expressing political discontent throughout Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_Revolution
    http://www.singingrevolution.com/

  2. I have pie every year instead of cake for my birthday! A sweet bread sounds like fun! Maybe next year.

  3. On the map Latvia looks like it’s stuck in the middle of nowhere. But historically it was not. Starting a thousand years ago lots of other countries passed through (usually with armies) so, though it wasn’t a cultural center like Paris or even Prague, it got cultural influences from all over. In the Middle Ages it was ruled by Germans and its ports were big trading centers. Later on, Swedish, Danish, Russian and Polish armies came.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      You can really see the German influence in the food. Many similarities like the sauerkraut and meats, gingerbread etc.

  4. Jessica Bennett says:

    The Baltic area is high on my list of places I’d like to visit (and I even know someone in Riga I could stay with). I’ve made a few things from the region- mostly fish and potatoes, but not fishy potatoes- that sounds interesting.

  5. In the old days in Sicily (and the rest of Italy I believe) people never really celebrated birthdays, it was all about the name day. But you probably already know that thanks to your partly Italian descent.

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